February 05, 2004

I'm interested in hearing everyone's reaction to this Speed Reader version of Cory Doctorow's Eastern Standard Tribe. I sat down and for the first three attempted readings got the speed wrong. Except I got it wrong by trying to read too slowly. When I eventually put the reader to its second-most-speedy setting and just sort of quietly gazed at the screen (instead of trying to read), the sentences seemed to flow off the screen and into my head. Dianna and Katie despised the format, however. Based on Dianna's reaction, I believe that was because they enjoy the skill involved in the perfect expression of an idea, as opposed to the ideas themselves. Two beautiful concepts exemplifying very different artistic philosophies.

So based on how you interact with literature, I guarantee that you will either love or hate the Speed Reader concept. On a similar bet-hedging note, I'm completely positive that the color blue is either blue or it isn't.

Posted on February 05, 2004 09:47 PM

i *love* this thing. seriously, i could stare at it for hours. that's amazing.

Posted by: michele on February 5, 2004 11:03 PM

Impressionistic Philistines, the both of you.

Posted by: dianna on February 6, 2004 12:36 AM

I find it completely useless for anything except a speedy reminder of various aspects of the book, which I could get as easily by scanning the pages of a paper version.

But utility aside, I do find it sort of beautiful when it is ramped up to full speed and I just let the text flow through me.

I wrote the applet because I wanted to help kick-start a conversation about alternate views on eBooks in the wider audience. It's why I left out many features of a real speed reader like structural navigation and bookmarking.

(nice picture use the hikari picture, by the way)

Posted by: Trevor Smith on February 6, 2004 07:40 AM

it's beautiful. but impractical for me. i can usually only read at most a paragraph before i have to stop and process a little and daydream about other stuff that occurs to me while reading.

Posted by: didofoot on February 6, 2004 08:00 AM

It's very true that I could never read the entire novel in Speedy-format. Partly because of the frustration involved in re-reading segments. A real speed reader might fix that, but I've never actually used one so it's hard for me to say (perhaps Trevor has some experience?). eBooks in general bug me because of the re-reading issue. I can never seem to remember which chapter a favorite passage is in. However, I can usually find it quickly by referencing the approx. location within the physical book (how far from the front or back).

Having said that, I found the experience to be an amazing demonstration of the contextual basis for language. I only noticed myself missing words (when I blinked) if I really thought about it. Most of the time I subconsciously reconstructed the sentence from context and didn't even register the break.

Posted by: Jacob on February 6, 2004 08:24 AM

I agree with you there. The ability to recreate sentences at the speed of light (figuratively speaking) when you didn't consciously take in all the parts of them is a fascinating capability of human language-processing centers.

But what if you recreate them WRONG? You might never know. How often do you glance over a label or headline and momentarily see something completely incorrect? I do it all the time, and only notice the incorrectness because I suddenly realize that the likelihood of us having purchased a roll of Tearful Wrap(tm) is fairly low. So I glance back more carefully, and see that I had mixed two lines of text and it's really Food Wrap, Tear Slowly. But if the words were already gone, the incorrectness were slightly less glaring, and I was already busily processing another sentence altogether, I'd never catch it and go back to re-read.

It's driving me nuts just thinking about it.

Posted by: dianna on February 6, 2004 01:53 PM

god dammit! the blasted page won't work for me. am i supposed to click on somthing once i follow your link, or are the words flashing so quickly, i can't even see them? these are the things i worry about at 2 in the morning.

Posted by: erica on February 7, 2004 02:04 AM

Me too, Erica! I can't read speedily either. I can't find the button to press to start me on my way. Doesn't matter, though, since I know I will hate it. I process about half a sentence every seven days, so I think the speed reader would just lap me several times over.

I'm also with Dianna about the sentence recreating thing: I think it's too easy to get the sentence wrong by trying to piece it together by inference. You might get the spirit of the sentence down, but My God Man!, there's more to a sentence than just its spirit. Maybe speed reader is good for plot-oriented people as opposed to language-oriented people.

Posted by: jason S on February 7, 2004 09:13 AM

It's a java applet, so if everything is working you should see a little window (under the stuff about the original Speed Reader) with a slider to control the speedy. If it's not working, you may need to install Java. To do so, go here
and click on "Get it Now"

Posted by: Jacob on February 7, 2004 10:12 PM